How much is Classical Hebrew (in which the Hebrew Bible is written) is different from the modern Hebrew? In which areas lie the main differences? Can any Jew or Israeli today understand what is written in the Hebrew Bible freely or he needs a special training for that? Can anyone, please, provide here an overview?

closed as off topic by Double AA, Shmuel Brin, Hacham Gabriel, Hahu Gavra, Naftali Mar 19 '12 at 13:15

Questions on Mi Yodeya are expected to relate to Judaism within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • A distinction needs to be made between Israelis (who speak Modern Hebrew) and Jews (only about half of whom speak Modern Hebrew). – Tzvi Mar 18 '12 at 13:23
  • 1
  • @Tzvi - Thanks for this specification. Would you please tell me why Jews don't speak Modern Hebrew? My knowledge in this area is almost zero. – brilliant Mar 18 '12 at 14:27
  • 3
    @DoubleAA, we can't migrate to a site that doesn't exist. Is the question on-topic here or not? – Isaac Moses Mar 18 '12 at 14:36
  • 3
    brilliant, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for bringing your question here! I look forward to seeing you around. – Isaac Moses Mar 18 '12 at 14:37

The Classical Hebrew is more compact than modern Hebrew. The are no redundant words in Torah, hence you can see usage of "ובלכתך" instead of "כאשר אתה תלך" and alike.

A Jew (even not a religious one) can understand most parts of the Torah without special training. More problematic parts are description of offerings with much details of how and where each type of offering should be done.

Also poetic parts like Song of Sea and Haazinu are relatively hard to understand.

Source: personal impression.

  • 1
    there are also some different uses of past and future tense. i.e. a past tense command with the letter vav in front of it becomes future tense, and vice versa. Thus, ידבר in modern Hebrew means "he will speak", but "וידבר" in biblical Hebrew means "and he spoke". This, and a few other linguistic mechanics, might prevent a secular, modern Hebrew speaker from completely understanding the text without additional training. – user1095 Mar 18 '12 at 13:51
  • @Will That's only if the vav is punctuated in a certain way. – Double AA Mar 18 '12 at 17:24
  • @Will Usually, out of the context you understand that the text describes something that occurred in past. So, I think this is not a problem for a common Hebrew-speaker – jutky Mar 18 '12 at 19:51
  • 1
    I'm not going to edit as I think this question is off topic anyway. The answers can be as bad as they want as far as I'm concerned. But I'm amazed that you really think "There are no redundant words in Torah" is a claim about the language, not parshanut?? What about some other text written in biblical hebrew? The question asked about the classical hebrew language, not about how we interpret the Torah. – Double AA Mar 19 '12 at 13:12
  • 1
    @jutky, there are redundant words, as has been pointed out. I hear what you are saying, but the language is confusing. There are, in fact, redundant words, which sparks questions by some, even many commentators, but there are, in fact, redundant words. I'd suggest more that the style of Biblical Hebrew is to write in a more compact and elegant way, but that is not necessarily a difference in the language. – Seth J Jun 18 '12 at 16:01

Another difference is that classical Hebrew generally uses a VSO word order (verb, subject, object), while modern Hebrew is generally SVO. As an example, the common phrase in the Torah, וידבר ה' אל משה, would literally translate as "and He spoke, G-d, to Moses"; a modern Hebrew speaker would probably say something like ה' דיבר אל משה.


for a proper overview I would probably send you to Hebrew wikipedia, but I'm guessing you (and most readers) are English speakers, so instead read: Revival Of the Hebrew Language on wikipedia.

As a side note I'll add, as a native (Israeli) Hebrew speaker that an incredibly great majority of the Hebrew Bible is readily understandable with no further sources. As other answers point out several parts are harder to understand with particular examples which pop to mind:

  • Leviticus - full of "gory" details of sacrifice and sacrificial procedures
  • Several scriptures which are mainly not in Hebrew or incorporate subjects which are non-Hebrew: Esther, Daniel (mostly Aramaic IIRC)

Hope that helps

  • 4
    Maybe you mean Ezra? Esther is almost entirely in Hebrew. – Double AA Mar 18 '12 at 19:58
  • 1
    I don't know about Leviticus being particularly difficult, really. True that there are some technical and anatomical terms that aren't in common use (מלק, פדר, עצה), but most of the terminology is readily understandable - and indeed has served as a source for modern Hebrew with at most slight variations, such as נתח ("dissect") having become the term for "surgery." – Alex Mar 18 '12 at 20:00
  • 1
    @Alex I tend to agree with you, but let's not forget the sections about tzaraat. – Double AA Mar 18 '12 at 20:12
  • 1
    @DoubleAA I meant Esther as it contains Persian terms and names which are never used in Hebrew (e.g. האחשדרפנים ), but it isn't unique by any means with "foreign" words in it – Yoni H Mar 18 '12 at 20:13
  • 2
    @Yoni Your talking about 20 words or so in the whole book where it is usually clear that it is referring to some sort of ruler (HaPartemim) or messenger (HaAchasteranim). Seems relatively minor, especially compared to Daniel. – Double AA Mar 18 '12 at 20:16

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .